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How Marvel Studios Changed Moon Knight’s Layla to Avoid Stereotypes

Moon Knight Layla Marvel character
By Richard Nebens

Marvel Studios' Moon Knight continues to give a fresh look into ancient Egyptian mythology while also providing a sense of authenticity regarding the cultural aspects of its expansive story. Through Oscar Isaac's Marc Spector and May Calamawy's Layla, this Marvel series has shared a fresh look into a place the MCU had never explored before while developing these brand-new heroes.

The last two episodes in particular are Moon Knight's biggest steps toward expanding into new cultural territory, with the entirety of their plots taking place in the deserts of Cairo. Layla was instrumental in developing those themes even further, which is particularly impressive considering that she's a character created specifically for the MCU - the same thing happened years ago with Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson.

With Layla being a character fans had never seen in any medium before, Calamawy has been instrumental in making sure her role comes through the right way in Moon Knight. Thanks to a recent interview with the MCU newcomer, fans learned that this came from a cultural perspective too.

How Marvel Made Layla Culturally Accurate

May Calamwy Moon Knight
Marvel

Update: Moon Knight head writer Jeremy Slater has shared a tweet in response to ELLE's profile on May Calamay to correct an inaccuracy. While ELLE reported that "Marlene Alraune was originally in "in head writer Jeremy Slater’s original script" in place of Layla, Slater stated that "Marlene was never a part of our show. Diversity was incredibly important to our writers' room, and Layla was created our very first week." 

An amended version of our article with this correction can be read below:

During an interview with ELLE, Moon Knight star May Calamay shared how Marvel worked with her to help avoid negative stereotypes and bring cultural authenticity into the Disney+ show.

In the comics, Marc Spector's original love interest was Marlene Alraune, a blonde white woman whose father was an archeologist. For the MCU, director Mohamed Diab made sure that Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was committed to changing that character to make her fit more into what the show would bring in its live-action story, which the team was welcome to:

“It started even on the page as a white woman and when we came on board, me and Sarah, she was then changed into half Egyptian and we pushed it. Let’s make it into an Egyptian character and they welcomed that.”

Moon Knight co-executive producer Becky Kirsch and co-producer Alex Meenehan were paramount players in fully realizing Layla El-Faouly as a three-dimensional character on the page, according to supervising producer Beau DeMayo.

Calamawy looked back at her discussions with Diab about her character, also praising Feige for allowing her the freedom to make the changes she felt were necessary in order to avoid making Layla too stereotypical:

“Anytime I felt uncomfortable, I would go talk to [Mohamed] and his wife and I love how Kevin Feige gave us the freedom to share that, let people know, 'This is not what it’s like, if we do that it’s gonna be a stereotype.' I realized quite early on this is a space where my voice was going to be heard and that’s the best feeling.”

The actress was also adamant about avoiding any comparisons to classic female heroes like Lara Croft, not wanting to copy something that'd already been done so many times before. She noted the "soft strength" that comes from Middle Eastern women and wanted to bring that same feel to her own character:

“I was careful not to draw inspiration from someone in the West because they want me to bring my side. In the Middle East, I find women have such a soft strength to them. And I was like, ‘How can I bring this to her? Why should I sit and copy what I think Angelina Jolie would do?’ Every woman I know is a bunch of dichotomies, and I wanted to bring that.”

 

Calamawy Bringing Real Feel to Layla

Bringing a new character into a franchise with as many established heroes and villains as the MCU is no easy task, but May Calamawy made sure that she had the freedom she needed to do it the right way.

Moon Knight has deeply rooted ties to ancient Egyptian mythology, which is being shown in spades through the Ennead of the Gods and locations all across the country's desert terrain. Episode 4 even revealed Layla's family background a bit more, the dialogue sharing her Egyptian heritage as well.

Changing her character completely from what she was in the comics, Calamawy made sure that her persona in the show represented what real Middle Eastern women were like, continuing Marvel's trend of true representation within the MCU. The studio has always been one to allow its stars some creative freedom, and it's paying off in spades for exciting newcomers on Disney+.

The first four episodes of Moon Knight are now streaming on Disney+.